Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So much for writing at night

This is the blog post where I take back everything I said a few weeks ago! No, actually, that's a complete lie, I don't take any of it back. I have been trying out the routine I described here on Jan 1st for the past few weeks, but the writing at night element of it just isn't working. I loved coming into my study at 10pm and writing until 2am, but then I was so hyped up I wasn't getting to sleep til 3am... and was waking J up in the process. I was feeling jet-lagged, and both us were sleeping badly, which really ruins everything. It just wasn't working.

But - I am the kind of person that often needs to make a RADICAL change in order to knock me out of my rut, and this was that radical change. I have learned an enormous amount from what I have been doing, setting off for a walk first thing, and making sure I come back with something. I've learned to really observe the world around me, putting energy into seeing and hearing in a way that I have never done before. I've learned just how much inspiration this close observation can provide me for my writing, as I make notes on what I see and hear, sometimes things that I know no-one else is noticing.

It gives me enormous pleasure to be using my senses like this - when I am out and about, I watch how people interact, and when I sit in a cafe I don't have my head buried behind my laptop anymore or checking my mobile phone. I wonder if anyone has noticed me noticing - do they wonder at the single woman sitting there, with no book, no newspaper? Just a pen and notepad. Is anyone watching me?

Because of this, for the first time ever I have been writing fiction based on real life events, or how I saw them. This is really a revelation - first it takes the pressure off me to "make up" everything, all the time. It lets me give my imagination a kick-start, which I had been doing with prompts and the New Scientist articles in my book, but hadn't done in this way before.

My routine also severed my umbilical connection to the Internet. I do my best every day not to turn it on for the first few hours at least, but when I do, I also now feel freer to just turn it off again, pull out the cable, block the wifi. It's a great relief! If there is something I need to look up first thing in the morning because I hadn't got myself organised the night before, I feel in some way unclean!

So, the current plan is to shift everything back a few hours. I've managed to get to sleep earlier, it took a few days, and I am getting up earlier, but right now I am quite confused about when my writing time is. I love going out first thing, getting the blood moving. I often go out quite grumpy and come back totally exhilerated! I also like not starting to write straight after my walk but to let what I've observed percolate, while I get on with other stuff. So, maybe this should be my writing time right now? 6-9? Late dinner? Early dinner? I've started a new healthy eating regime too... the working at night had the effect of utterly throwing off my mealtimes so I kept skipping a meal, which didn't help.

To sum up: I need to sleep. I need to eat. I need to write. I need quality time with J. I need to let him sleep too. I haven't quite figured out all of those things, but it's only Jan 26th, there's still 11 months and 5 days to go!

16 comments:

Jo said...

I can so relate to this! I never have a set routine for my writing and try to let it happen organically. I write when I can, and that is often when others are in the house and children are demanding my attention. Weird. I find it very hard to write first thing, but sometimes I do it anyway. I find a good session in the gym in the morning gets my brain cells working much better, but usually need a brief nap in the early afternoon before I can start writing, which is why I write when my daughter is back from school and not before. Be prepared for your current routine to change. Go with the flow. I find I have to schedule three decent meals a day, otherwise everything gets knocked out of kilter. I'm so glad you're enjoying your observation sessions. It's something I'm bad at and need to improve on.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Greetings from Ireland. Can I ask a question? Why does there need to be a set 'writing time'?
You are a writer anyway, whether you physically have a pen and paper or a computer in front of you.

You are a writer when you are walking, and looking, and remembering.

You are a writer when you are reading, and feeding your mind.

And you are a writer when you are eating, drinking, breathing, being with James...

You don't just stop.

Some days I write all day. (rarely). Some days I write for ten minutes. (rarely) Most days it is somewhere between the two. never at the same time...

Not suggesting you do what I do - God knows, I end up in the doldrums many times over, frequently! Maybe its just part of the thing of being what we are. Writers.

Tania Hershman said...

Jo, thanks for sharing, that makes me feel better. Exercise really helps, doesn't it? And food. That was making me crazy. Interesting that you write after your daughter comes home. I suppose that if you can shut the door and be undisturbed, you can do it whenever works for you.

V - that is so true. I had to remind myself as I sat in the cafe today, watching, that I was actually working, and that made me feel great! The thing is, I seem to be able to get through far too many days without doing any of the actual writing at all. Maybe I am worried for no reason. Things should start to shape up a bit when I start going in to the Uni 2 days a week to put my observation skills to the test in the Nanoscience centre. But yes, this is clearly something that varies from one writer to another. I am just musing and observing myself!

Nik Perring said...

Well, good on you for trying. And it's good to hear that it HAS helped in some way.

And I'm with V - there doesn't have to be a set time for writing, so long as you've got the discipline to not get out of the habit (which I know you've got cracked!).

Nik

SueG said...

sounds like you're really feeling your way and you're on your way to figuring out what will work. Good going! And I love the bit about how your observing real life. That's what I call getting into my writer's head.

Rachel Fenton said...

I like reading about the flux of your self discoveries.

Lisa said...

yay real life events...

Tania Hershman said...

Nik, it has most definitely helped! And I am not so sure I've got the discipline.

Sue, yup, feeling my way. And if that involves any aspect of the SueG method, I'm thrilled!

Rachel, how kind of you to put it so beautifully, in other words: me being ditzy!

Lisa - which Lisa is this?! And is that yay because I'm writing about real life? Well, not about my life, not so far. But who knows??!

Jim Murdoch said...

It has always been a great disappointment to me that I have never been able to establish a routine in my life. My father was the same, the one thing he hated about being in the navy was being told when he was allowed to do certain things and for how long. Much of that obviously has to do with the fact that it was other people who imposed those restrictions on him. I would like to think that if I allowed my body to find its own natural routine then I would be a happier person. My problem is that I’m not a very natural person. I can schedule any amount of time I like for a certain task but I can’t suddenly switch into the right mood or mindset when my diary says I need to. And once I’ve got into a rhythm I’m reluctant to stop. I’m like a kid, I only want to do the fun stuff and I don’t want the fun to stop and so I push myself and within no time I’m out of kilter. What I’m learning as I get older is that the quality of the time you devote on something is far more important that the quantity and not all tasks should carry the same weight. So, if like now, I find myself awake at half-one after only having had an hour’s sleep I ask myself what I’m clear-headed enough to tackle. Top of the tree would be creative writing, bottom would be watching TV. This is what I feel up to and I’ll do it until I feel tired. This works fine for a bit but sooner or later you’ll get backed up and you have to do stuff because it’s overdue not because that’s the task best-suited to the mood you’re in. The trick is to never do a lesser task when you’re up to doing a higher one. I would be wasting valuable time if I sat watching TV right now but if I tried to finish that poem from last night it probably wouldn’t be any good. Of course there will be times when you have to do something like cleaning the bathroom when you’d rather be writing. I just try and ensure that I never actually do that when I’m at my best.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Us creative types suffer so, it makes life hell at times, but I do wonder if others experience the elation that we do? Our version of heaven: when we're on a roll and the words are flowing in a stream.

Sarah Hilary said...

As someone who's been fighting to find the 'right balance' (life/write) for yonks now, I sympathise, Tania. V is right that you never stop being a writer but, for me anyway, the physical act of writing has to be a part of the day or at least of the week or I start to feel anxious about calling myself 'a writer'. I start to wonder if I can still do it. I need tangible evidence, and often! It does sound as if you're great things, though. I love the people watching. Good luck, and stick at it. (Sorry to end on a platitude - I must be rusty!)

Debi said...

Vanessa has voiced my feelings perfectly.

It sounds like you've been stressing too much and maybe need to let go a little and not be so hard on yourself.

virginia said...

It changes with each life shift. Now, I write e-mails to myself late at night, usually prompted by a memory. Less pressure, and it's out of my head and onto "paper". I have a great mail archive!

I also keep a pen and notebook in my bathroom, to capture first and last thoughts of the day/night. Years ago, I would drive long distances alone, and I kept a notebook/pen on the seat for thoughts I didn't want to lose. Back then I wished for a tape recorder, so I could talk to myself. Now I know I would never make the time to edit out the boring bits. If I had the opportunity to go cross-country in my car again, I would leave messages for myself via my hands-free cell.

Some sort of movement, walking, or running or yoga, makes for a nice jump start to word flow. Yoga is interesting because you're always being reminded to leave your thoughts outside the door. That's a tough one.

I take photos daily, and try to describe the subject, or the process, in one short phrase.

As Jo said, go with the flow. I've come away with the best stories from airplane seat-mates, because I listened more than I shared, and simply decided not to be annoyed. More entertaining than the book I had in my lap.

I rarely write for the public, but if you click on "Bernice" in my tag cloud, you'll see how my photos relate to my written words.

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Interesting stuff, Tania. It's good to ring the changes - makes you know what doesn't work and what you DO need. It'll work out for you.
I have to keep it all fluid because life changes for me all the time. SOmetimes I long for routine, sometime I hate routine. Through it all I write. A little these days, more hopefully when my youngest child is a bit bigger.
N x

Teresa Stenson said...

It's an ongoing battle/process/journey, isn't it? Good to try things out, be open to new routines, not give yourself a hard time and yet be necessarily hard on yourself too... So many lines we tread.

Lauri said...

What I found interesting in your story was that knocked askew you saw something in front of you for the first time (writing about real life happenings). There are people who believe standing on your head helps and I think it might. It's like changing the paintings on your walls every once in awhile- you must or you stop seeing them.